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Here’s How Outerknown is Eliminating Polybags from Its Supply Chain

Outerknown is choosing paper over plastic.

The sustainable lifestyle label, which champion surfer Kelly Slater founded in 2015, revealed Monday that it’s partnering with Vela, a manufacturer of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified paper bags, to eliminate single-use polybags from its supply chain.

The bags, Outerknown and Vela claim, are carbon neutral and more recyclable than plastic.

The garment sector uses some 180 billion virgin polybags every year, according to Amsterdam innovation platform Fashion for Good, and less than 15 percent is recaptured for recycling. Most are landfilled, incinerated or cast into the environment, where they break down into microplastics that infiltrate the soil, air and water.

Outerknown, a member of the Prana-led Responsible Packaging Movement, says it will be the first brand to transition 100 percent of its suppliers to use Vela paper bags by next fall, in “hopes that it will also make it easier for other brands to make the switch.”

The move is another step on the Culver City, Calif.-based company’s journey to becoming a fully circular brand by 2030, said Megan Stoneburner, Outerknown’s director of sustainability and sourcing. Already, more than 90 percent of the fibers used in its products are recycled, regenerated or organic. Eventually, everything will be designed with increased longevity and ease of end-of-life disassembly in mind.

Its packaging will follow a similar trajectory. “We will continue to reduce our use of virgin forest fibers and increase our use of recycled content across our packaging,” Stoneburner said in a statement. “The vast majority of our packaging is already made from at least 90 percent recycled paper, and while these are steps in the right direction, we recognize we have more work to do.”

Outerknown is working with each of its suppliers, “one on one,” to make the change, which it says it hopes will help keep plastic bags out of the world’s waterways. A 2017 report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation warned that if current production and disposal rates continue, the amount of plastic in the oceans will outweigh fish by 2050.

“Partnering with Vela on the first ever FSC-certified tissue bag for garments is another innovative win for both Outerknown and the ocean,” said Slater, who has won 11 world surfing championships. “Outerknown is deeply committed to eliminating the use of virgin plastic and ensuring we keep it out of our oceans.”